Nets in play for Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler
Disgruntled star lists Brooklyn as potential trade destination
Nets general manager Sean Marks has been adamant that the Nets are sticking to the blueprint for their massive rebuilding project in Downtown Brooklyn, taking it step-by-step and brick-by-brick on the path to creating a winning program.
But disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves shooting guard Jimmy Butler may have accelerated that plan.
Though the Nets’ architect has done a brilliant job of clearing enough cap space to sign not one, but potentially two max-contract free agents in the summer of 2019, Butler’s insistence that he wants out of Minnesota may force Marks’ hand.
Butler intimated this week that the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, and yes, the Nets are the three teams he would be willing to go to if the T-Wolves can figure out a trade that would result in him changing locales and signing a long-term deal, one estimated to be for the maximum five years and $190 million.
Marks, who along with head coach Kenny Atkinson has slowly built a roster full of young, developing talent that would serve as a strong supporting cast for a player of Butler’s caliber, has let it be known in recent weeks that the Nets are content to enter the upcoming 2018-19 campaign with their current cast.
“I think you’ve got to be careful with just staying pat and saying this is what we’re going to do in a year from now,” said Marks at the team’s HSS Training Center in Sunset Park.
“I think what we’ve done is we’ve strategically looked at various different ways to build and we’ve been able to pivot over the course of these last couple years, and that’s the same case of what we’ll do over this next year.”
But Butler, who burned the Nets badly here at Barclays Center as a member of the Chicago Bulls during the opening round of the 2013 NBA playoffs and averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per night for Minnesota last year, was likely already one of Marks’ targets in free agency next summer.
Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard, Boston’s Kyrie Irving and Butler have been the three names most often associated with Brooklyn’s anticipated 2019 summer spending spree, but now Marks has a chance to grab Butler before he even hits the market.
Only it will cost him a good chunk of the foundation he has already erected here in Brooklyn, along with a protected first-round draft pick he received from Denver in this summer’s deal for power forward Kenneth Faried.
Players like fast-emerging forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, guard Caris LeVert, veteran forward DeMare Carroll with his expiring contract and perhaps even Faried would be likely to leave the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues if Marks was willing to go all in on Butler.
“Obviously, the cap space and future draft picks and so forth that we’ve been able to acquire will help in a variety of different ways,” he noted. “Whether that’s in the free-agent market, I have no idea. But it just gives us more tools in the toolbox.”
Butler, who could instantly alleviate some of the pressure to produce from the shoulders of gifted scorers like D’Angelo Russell and Allen Crabbe, would be Brooklyn’s sharpest tool the moment he stepped foot in the borough.
He displayed his moxie for big moments when the injury-plagued Bulls somehow shocked the Nets in seven tough games during that 2013 opening-round series.
The 29-year-old Houston native played nearly 41 minutes per night during Chicago’s 12-game run during that postseason, including the full 48 in the Bulls’ memorable Game 7 triumph at Barclays.
Butler, a four-time All-Star who has proven himself valuable on both ends of the floor, was rumored to be most interested in the Clippers, as of yesterday afternoon.
If Butler gets his wish and winds up in L.A., the Nets will still have players like reigning Finals MVP Kevin Durant, Irving, Leonard, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins and Kemba Walker to pursue in free agency next summer.
But if Marks is willing to scrap even a portion of his long-term blueprint for success here in Brooklyn, the Nets will certainly be in play for Butler during the next few weeks as NBA training camps open and the exhibition slate begins.
Nothing But Net: Marks made it clear during Tuesday’s preseason presser with the local media at HSS Training Center that he had Nets summer league standout Theo Pinson pegged as Brooklyn’s two-way player on the back end of the roster.
Pinson, a 6-foot-6 swingman who won a national title during his collegiate days at the University of North Carolina, averaged 11.0 points while playing an average of 25 minutes per game during Brooklyn’s summer slate in Las Vegas.
As a developmental player on the roster, Pinson can play in Brooklyn when needed and then get shuttled back to the team’s G-League affiliate on Long Island.
“It’s staying flexible throughout the year,” Marks said of how the Nets will utilize Pinson and forward Alan Williams, who is also signed to a two-way deal.
“We’ll see what happens. If we do have a guy in mind, Theo Pinson is going to be our two-way guy. If that hasn’t been out there yet, it probably should have been,” he added. “Our coaching staff got to evaluate him during the draft process. Lot of intangibles. Coached well. You can coach him hard. He wants to learn. And he’s got some experience.”
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